Scripture: Luke 10:38-42
The Bible starts with the story of God’s creation. One impressive thing to us in the story is that on the seventh day God rested from all his work. The Bible says, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”
It is very interesting that our almighty and powerful God who made the whole universe needs rest. Does he feel tired like us? It is hard to understand. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it he rested from all the work of creating. The reason he made the Sabbath day holy was that he rested on that day. That means resting is holy in God’s sight.
Around Easter time last April we took the confirmation students to a Jewish synagogue. Around our Holy Week, right before Easter, they have the “Passover Festival.” The night we visited the synagogue, I expected the synagogue to be filled with people because Passover is their biggest festival and their confirmation students led that night’s service. But there were not many people. Including teachers, mentors, and parents of our confirmation students, we had a bigger group of people than they did. We looked at each other and said, “Where are they all?” After the service the rabbi told us that people largely observe the Passover festival at home by taking rest there. I learned that they are still serious about practicing their religion and the religious principle of “rest” with their families.
In today’s culture taking rest or just slowing down is not easy because our entire society views work as a virtue and being busy as a label of importance. Work can be the central purpose of life. To work is to be somebody. Apart from our work we don’t know who we are or what our worth is. When was the last time you took rest intentionally and seriously? What do you do when you take rest? Why do you think taking rest is so important as a Christian?
Last Sunday we heard the good Samaritan story and learned that to have eternal life, first, we need to love our Lord God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind and, second, love our neighbor as ourselves. The Good Samaritan, who was the hero in Jesus’ parable, is the model that teaches us how we should love our neighbors. And today we heard the story of two sisters, Mary and Martha. Right after the Good Samaritan story Jesus teaches us how we should love our Lord God through the story of Mary and Martha.
Mary and Martha were sisters of Lazarus, who was resurrected by Jesus four days after he died. Jesus was their good friend and he stayed with them whenever he passed through the town. But this time it was his last visit to them because Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem to face his death. Because Jesus knew he would die in Jerusalem, his heart might have been filled with agony and maybe he needed his friends. His friends would listen to him seriously. As usual, Mary and Martha welcomed him, and especially Martha was so happy to serve him and his disciples.
We don’t know how many days Jesus stayed there. My guess is that Jesus and his disciples stayed there several days. Martha was very busy cleaning house and preparing food. Mary spent most of her time sitting at Jesus’s feet and listening to him. Finally, Martha’s patience reached the limit. Perhaps she thought, “Who does Mary think she is? She is not my guest. She is my sister who needs to help me.” Or she might have thought, “Why is Jesus ignoring me like this? Why doesn’t he scold Mary to help me?”” Finally, she came to Jesus and told him in a mad voice, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
We understand Martha’s point because we have experienced the same situation so many times. In Jesus’ time women could not sit with men to talk or listen. Still conservative Jewish synagogues have separate seats between men and women. Women sit in the back behind a curtain. Mary was not only lazy but also broke the social custom. She sat next to Jesus and listened to him. It was unexpected behavior. But Jesus upheld Mary, not Martha. He told Martha, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Why did Jesus compliment her? Why Mary?
Let us compare how the Bible describes Martha and Mary. The words used to describe Martha are distracted, worried, and upset. We may think Jesus scolded Martha by saying, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things.” But Jesus was concerned about her, that she had a problematic attitude. First, Martha had inner resentment. She resented Mary, her only sister. Because Martha was troubled with her resentment she cut off her sister and Jesus. When many things distract us we easily cut off close family members and even Jesus. Second, Martha had a narrow mind, thinking her way was the only way. When we have that narrow mind we cannot see God’s way because God’s way is different from ours. Third, Martha was not kind. Martha was upset and told Jesus what to do for her. Sometimes we can be angry with God, but we cannot tell God what to do for us. We need to be honest with God but we should know that God is God.
The words used to describe Mary in today’s Bible story are listening and choosing what is better. The town, Bethany, where Mary and Martha lived was on the way to Jerusalem, and Jesus stayed with them often. Whenever Jesus went to Jerusalem his heart was sad because there were religious leaders who didn’t understand and they hated him so much. One time Jesus wept over Jerusalem saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Jesus knew he would die in Jerusalem and he wanted to see his friends last time and to talk with them.
There were many people in Mary and Martha’s home because Martha let people know Jesus was there. But there were not many people who wanted to listen to him closely. They were there to see Jesus expecting more miracles. But Mary sat down at his feet and listened to him. Why did Mary want to listen to him? It was her love for Jesus. She focused on Jesus. Mary practiced the law, “Love your Lord God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind.” When we love someone we listen to them carefully. That’s one way we show our love.
To listen to others we need to stop what we are doing. We need to set aside our agendas. It takes time and patience. We need to take rest when we listen to others. When we come to worship service, we remember Mary. We sit down before the presence of God. We collect ourselves from all distracting thoughts. We open our hearts and ears to God. We are ready to listen to Him because we love Him.
When we have trouble with our spouse, children, and friends, we need to remember Mary. Sit down with them and listen to them. Don’t think my way is the only way. Though you may be right, take time to listen to them and learn from them their different ways. You can be honest with them about your feelings, but remember that they have their own feelings. You cannot control them and tell them what to do. Sometimes we hear the phrase, “Love knows no boundaries.” Poetically and sacrificially, this is true. But love does know boundaries in healthy relationships.
Jesus complimented Mary because she chose the better. She made Jesus as her Lord priority over everything else. Because she was so clear with her priority she didn’t care for social customs. To be Jesus’ disciples sometimes we need to go against social customs and expectations. It is not easy. We will face all kinds of ridicule. When everyone says, “Money is power,” we give tithes to God through the church. The society thinks it is wasting money, but we believe it is thanksgiving to God. Our society prioritizes summer vacation as rest; we come to church for worship. Some people think it is wasting time, but, like Mary, we believe it is our love for God.
What is your priority and how do you keep your priority? I encourage you to take time off with God to make priorities in your life. Sometimes I light a candle and just sit down with it. Sometimes I come to church early in the morning and sit down in the sanctuary. Sometimes I go to the river and admire its simple rhythms. But the most meaningful time for me in practicing rest is fellowship with God and you, God’s people, in this sanctuary on our Sabbath Day of Rest, the Lord’s Day.
Why Mary? Why did Jesus uphold Mary? Because she made Jesus a priority, she took rest at Jesus’ feet to keep her sense of that priority. She is a model for us in how we love our God.